Program Mission

We launched our Youth Leadership program in 2001 because the values and skills young people gain in their formative years shape the rest of their lives and society’s future. Young people are often prime movers of social change and leaders in innovation. Youth movements do change the world, and youth leadership is a priceless investment in our future.

Our Youth Leadership program focuses primarily on the annual Bioneers conference. We promote learning, leadership development, and alliance building to strengthen capacity and connection among diverse youth 13-23. By addressing multiple issues from an intersectional perspective, we offer young leaders and aspiring activists the opportunity to build skills, connect with allies and express their activism through media and the arts as a means of healing and reconciliation.

We build youth alliances across race, ethnicity, age, gender, class and culture. The program represents the most diverse constituency within Bioneers. Today over half our conference youth scholars are youth of color.

In the early days, we had to actively seek young people and convince them to come. Today we cannot keep up with the demand. Along with numerous youth activists, entire school classes participate in the conference along with many educators working across diverse institutions. Bioneers media are being used in growing numbers of schools.

At the conference, the Youth Unity Center connects the nearly 500 youth who attend Bioneers each year (20% of attendees). Youth participate in peer-to-peer talking circles and skill-building workshops where diverse youth voices can be amplified and valued while promoting principles of love, respect, diversity and sustainability. 


Arts and media projects support youth to express their vision, passions and aspirations in venues such as the Poetry Slam, Singing Tree Mural and Trashion Show.

Youth are prominent in the conference program, including daily Youth keynotes and performances on the main stage as well as in panels and workshops.

Bioneers provides 400+ youth scholarships annually, including numerous Indigenous youth.

Our Community of Mentors project connects youth with experienced Bioneers leaders across diverse disciplines, issues and backgrounds in a mutual intergenerational mentoring process.

In collaboration with our Indigeneity program, we work directly with students and educators to create an educational model for cross-cultural understanding between Native and non-Native students. We provide access to free classroom-ready coursework and teaching materials.

Just Us 4 Food Justice is an annual one-day workshop where youth participate in interactive sessions on creative, messaging, holistic leadership, movement building, food sovereignty and developing inner resilience.

Numerous young people who’ve had their hearts and minds opened at Bioneers have gone on to do great work in the world, and we are so grateful for their leadership.

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Program History

At the 1999 Bioneers conference, a spontaneous round of applause rang through the hall as cell phone connection was made. Julia Butterfly Hill was protesting the clear-cutting of old-growth forests from her 180-foot perch in a 1000-year-old redwood tree that she called Luna. She electrified the audience as she described life in the canopy and reflected on her experience as a 23-year-old activist. The next year after Julia descended from Luna and keynoted in person, she saw the need to expand the presence of youth and organized an impromptu session on the lawn with about 30 young people. She sowed the seeds of the Bioneers Youth Leadership Program (YLP) and helped get it off the ground.

The YLP promotes learning, leadership development, and alliance building to strengthen capacity and connection among diverse youth 13-23 to help build the movement to heal people and the planet.

By addressing multiple issues from an intersectional perspective, the YLP offers young leaders and aspiring activists the opportunity to build skills, connect with allies and express their activism through the arts as a means of healing and reconciliation.

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